Food crisis: OPM warns refugees against planned protest 

Men mingle posho for refugees at Imvepi Settlement Camp in Terego District in 2006. A new food distribution programme for refugees that was set to start in July is breeding hostility in camps. PHOTO/FELIX WAROM OKELLO

What you need to know:

  • In September 2019, a section of the refugees in Bidibidi Refugee Resettlement, beat up some humanitarian staff over food stored at the World Food Programme Warehouse.     
  • Mr Stephen Oloya, the Chief Administrative Officer of Yumbe District, said the food rationing has a negative impact on refugees and the host community. 
  •      “The food reduction was on the assumption that the refugees are now self-reliant, which means they want to make the refugees dependent on the local economy and yet we are still vulnerable,’’ he said.

Officials from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) have warned refugees against a planned protest over a food crisis in the in Yumbe District. 
The implementation of the food prioritisation assistance programme was set to start in the month of July, but according to OPM officials, the exercise has not kicked-off, following credible information that some of the disgruntled refugees want to protest the decision.

In the new food programme, the refugees have been put into three categories. The first category will receive 70 percent of the food assistance, the second category will receive 40 percent, while those in the third category will not receive any food assistance. 

Speaking to this publication on Wednesday, Mr Charles Geriga, a refugee in Bidibidi Zone II Settlement, said the food prioritisation plan has caught them by surprise and it is breeding division in the camps.

“There are some refugees who are in a critical condition, but they have been put under category 2.  For my case, I have a disability and I use stretchers for mobility, but I was annoyed when the assessment team said I am not disabled enough. This was an insult to me, so they decided to put me under category 2,” he said. 

Mr Geriga, who chiefly depends on the food rations, said: “I have a family size of 14 and I will be receiving about 3kgs of cereals per person monthly, which cannot sustain us for long. With my status, I have no other sources of getting resources and I cannot dig to supplement what they will give me.” 

Ms Regina Gabriel, another refugee, said life in the camps is becoming unbearable.  She said the number of meals they used to take in a day has reduced and some families sometimes go hungry for a number of days.
“The food that we receive cannot last for a month resulting in under-feeding. Our children are getting malnourished due to lack of a balanced diet. And this poor feeding affects breast milk production for the babies among mothers,’’ Ms Gabriel said. 

Mr Michael Anyanzo, another refugee in Bidibidi Zone 1 Settlement, said food reduction and prioritisation has caused confusion and frustration in the refugee community. 

He said for the refugees that fall under category 3, it is very difficult to predict the future and this has caused self-repatriation for some. 
“I don’t know why food has been prioritised. If you go to other countries like South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and DR Congo, food for refugees is 80 percent, but this prioritisation is only in Uganda so, this issue is really traumatising us,’’ he said.

Before the implementation of the programme, refugees have been encouraged to acquire more land to plant crops so that they become self-sustaining. 

This was to reduce hunger and overload on the World Food Programme (WFP), which has resulted from a shortage of funds and increasing food prices on the world market.  

The deputy settlement commandant for Bidibidi, Mr Wilson Mugabi, said there is some information they are getting in the field regarding the dissatisfaction, especially among the refugees that fall under category 3.

In an earlier meeting in Yumbe Town, Mr Hamidu Tusiime, the Word Food Programme Head of Field office in Koboko, said the current funding requires food prioritisation. 
“The resources that we are receiving from donors have gone down. It is similar to you when you are having your budget in a household and the funding is reducing so, what do you do? You put your expenditures according to the most pressing needs ,” he said.

He said there is a need for the refugees to be self-reliant by utilising the available land offered by the landlords to grow crops. 
The Arua refugee desk officer in OPM, Mr Solomon Osakan, said the donors that support WFP don’t have enough resources.     
“We don’t want a repeat of protests over food like that of 2019. I beg you (the refugees) not to attack UNHCR, OPM and partners who are working in the settlement. We have come to support you and ensure that you have a good life,” Mr Osakan said.